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TV anchor: I was sexually abused by Catholic priest

By Thomas Roberts
CNN
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Editor's note: Thomas Roberts has been a Headline News anchor since 2001. In this story, he discusses being sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- I became a victim of sexual abuse at the age of 14; the abuse lasted three years. It took me nearly 20 years to gather the strength to help put my abuser behind bars. Now, a year after "justice" was done, I am ready to tell my story publicly in ways I never have before.

My abuser was Father Jeff Toohey, a trusted man of God. He was the equivalent of a religious celebrity in my private all-boys Catholic school in Baltimore, Maryland. Father Jeff was every boy's friend and mentor. I considered him my mentor as well.

When my parents divorced, I was sent to Father Jeff to help me cope with all the changes. Divorce in the mid-1980s still seemed so foreign. Plus, I was just a kid, and I didn't know much about divorce. I just knew it sucked.

All I had at that time in my life was my family and school. Those were my constants. But as my family fell apart, so did my life at school. After the abuse began, high school became a prison of shame and lies.

I felt trapped. My parents would be horrified to know their failure at marriage put their son at risk to be sexually abused and that the man abusing me was the high school chaplain and beloved priest. (Watch Roberts' mom say the priest will 'burn in hell' Video)

The school would never believe me, I thought, and I feared I would be expelled if I revealed the abuse. I was 14, with no voice, except the one in my head saying, "You can never tell the truth about what is happening."

Roughly a month after the abuse started, I attempted to commit suicide. I took a bottle of my mother's pills. I lined them up one-by-one on my maple dresser. I took them all and lay on my bed hoping to just fade away and die.

My sister, Patsy, came home and found me. It was the day before her 18th birthday. She saved my life that day just by merely coming to my room to say, "Hi." She saw the pill bottle and went to get ipecac, which made me throw up.

My parents were terribly upset by my actions. Father Jeff was told I tried to kill myself. All agreed I just needed more counseling. Father Jeff's exact words were, "You have so much to live for." I felt so cornered, and I had nowhere to go and no one to run to. I just became numb to the abuse.

"This too shall pass" is one of my favorite religious sayings. The abuse did pass, but it left me so insecure about who I was.

When I was in college, another boy, Michael Goles, came forward and reported his abuse at the hands of Father Jeff. I knew I could help Michael if I, too, revealed Father Jeff's abuse, but out of a feeling of self-preservation, I remained quiet. Michael wasn't believed, and his case was thrown out of court.

Nearly 20 years after the abuse started, I became strong enough to go back and confront what had happened to me. I was strong enough to tell my family the truth. I was strong enough to report it to the archdiocese. And I was strong enough to call Michael Goles and tell him, "I am sorry," and that I believe him because it happened to me, too.

Together, we were strong enough to see our abuser finally admit his crimes. Father Jeff was charged with 10 criminal counts of child sexual abuse in relation to my case. He asked for a plea and admitted his guilt in court. He was sentenced to five years in jail but only served 10 months. He was released early to serve eight months in home detention.

This story is so layered. For a long time, I couldn't talk about it without crying. But a year ago, CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper and CNN Senior Producer Charlie Moore approached me about telling and following my story. I was scared. I was scared of being so honest and televising this journey.

What would people think? Would I ruin my career? But I came to the conclusion that I will not be scared anymore. I will not be scared of telling the truth because it might be uncomfortable for people to hear.

If this story compels even one person to seek help for being sexually abused, then it is all worth it. All it takes is telling one person. From there, strength grows and you can tell a second person and so on. Then you can finally have control of your life back.


Thomas Roberts

Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts says it took him nearly 20 years to publicly admit he was sexually abused as a teenager.

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